Geneva: The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it was “too early” to declare the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), while warning that the number of cases may increase as much about the virus remains unknown.
“I am not declaring a public health emergency of the international concern today. As it was yesterday, the Emergency Committee was divided over whether the outbreak of novel coronavirus represents a PHEIC or not,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the media here on Thursday night after a closed-door meeting of the Emergency Committee.
“Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one,” Tedros said, adding that WHO’s risk assessment is that the outbreak is a very high risk in China, and a high risk regionally and globally.
“I wish to reiterate that the fact I am not declaring a PHEIC today should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious, or that we are not taking it seriously,” the WHO chief said.
The UN health agency extended its Emergency Committee discussions on whether to declare a PHEIC from Wednesday to Thursday.
The PHEIC is defined by the WHO as an extraordinary event that is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.
Tedros said that 584 cases were reported to the WHO, including 17 deaths.
A total of 575 of those cases and all of the deaths have been reported in China, with other cases reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.
Tedros said China has taken measures it believes appropriate to contain the spread of coronavirus in Wuhan, where the virus appears to have originated, and other cities, and WHO hoped that they will be both effective and short in their duration.
For the moment, the WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade, and recommends exit screening at airports as part of a comprehensive set of containment measures.
All countries should have in place measures to detect cases of coronavirus, including at health facilities, Tedros said.